Project v operations managers – OPEN

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Topic 9.1: Project v operations managers

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In as much as there are differences between projects and operations, there are distinct differences between the role of a project manager and that of a functional or business-as-usual manager.

Expertise

Operational managers usually have extensive technical knowledge in a specific area, and are the ‘expert-of-experts’, in that they function as the direct, technical supervisor of their teams and their work. For example, an accountant will lead a team of bookkeepers, and a hotel manager will have worked their way up through the various entry and supervisory roles in a hotel.

Project managers may have some technical knowledge in one or two areas, but not necessarily knowledge beyond that. Instead, they coordinate a team of specialists to work with other specialists in different technical areas. This can be likened to conducting an orchestra without needing to know how to play all the instruments.

Responsibility

Typically, operational managers have line control over their staff. Reporting lines are clear, and hierarchies are well established. 

Project managers share control over their teams with the technical experts in the project and functional managers in the organisation. 

These differences have significant implications for your project leadership style.

Effectively, the worst thing you can do to a project team member is kick them off the project, whereas their other managers can get them fired from their job.

Loyalties therefore default to those line managers, sometimes at the expense of the project.

Indeed for some, getting kicked off a project is a good outcome, because it means they can return to their more pressing, day-to-day work!

C'mon guys, it's not that hard...

Teamwork is nevertheless a critical factor for project success, and developing effective project teams is one of the primary responsibilities of the project manager.

Project managers should create an environment that encourages and enables teamwork.

They should continually motivate their team by providing challenges and opportunities, by providing timely feedback and support as needed, and by recognising and rewarding good performance.

High team performance can be achieved by:

Using open and effective communication

Developing trust among team members

Managing conflicts in a constructive manner, and

Encouraging collaborative problem-solving and decision-making.

These are the themes we will explore across these next two Units in this Module.